NI Health Service temp bill ‘unsustainable’ at £427,000 a day

The cost of hiring temporary staff to cover the skills gap in Northern Ireland’s Health Service has risen to £427,000 a day, with spending hitting £156 million in the 12 months to April 2018.

Department of Health figures show how the cost of agency staff has risen steadily. In the 2014/15 year the temporary staff bill was £76,508,610, growing to £91,398,542 the following year. Then in 2016/17 this spiralled to £134,747,037, and now it stands at £156,109,091. The department admitted the increasing temp costs were not sustainable, particularly at a time of serious financial pressures right across the public sector.

“Trusts employ agency/locum staff for several reasons, for example, cover for sickness and maternity/paternity leave; cover for existing vacancies, and when demand increases over the winter months,” a spokesperson for the department told The Belfast Telegraph.

“The primary aim of this is to ensure that safe and effective services are sustained at all times for patients and clients. The Health and Social Care Workforce Strategy 2026: Delivering for Our People, which was published by the department in May 2018, sets out ambitious goals for a workforce that will match the requirements of a transformed system addressing the need to tackle serious challenges with supply, recruitment and retention of staff.

“In the meantime, maintaining services with safe staffing levels occasionally requires us to use higher-cost agency staff.”

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